“It’s important to diagnose food allergies to try and prevent a severe allergic reaction,” Dr. Stacie McMurtry, a physician affiliated with Advocate Condell Medical Center, Libertyville, Ill., says. “If a person notes a reaction after eating a specific food, it’s important for them to be tested so they can take steps to avoid exposure to that allergen.”
As many as 6% of U.S. children have food allergies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So knowing how to spot them and deal with them can be critical.
While there are many ways to go about being tested, the most reliable method is through a specialized allergist. Dr. McMurtry explains that this works by having the doctor “prick or scratch a small amount of the food allergen onto the skin of the patient, allowing for a tiny amount to enter just below the surface of the skin. If the person is allergic, they will develop a raised bump surrounded by a circle of itchy, red skin where the allergen was placed.”
According to Dr. McMurtry, this is the best method because it maintains a controlled environment.
“During the testing, the patient is closely monitored for a more severe allergic reaction,” she says.
She says that allergists’ offices are stocked with emergency medications and equipment in case of a severe reaction. While many may not understand the importance of proper testing, Dr. McMurtry notes that “indiscriminately testing for food allergens leads to potentially false positive reactions.”
Once an allergy has been determined, the next step is understanding its severity. While mild allergies have much less potential dangers compared to severe ones, both are equally important to manage. Fortunately, food allergies have been found to become less potent over time. If understood that a food allergy no longer exists, allergists typically conduct a graded oral food challenge in the office to reintroduce the food.